Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Vagabond: Writing as Swordsmanship (or Breadmaking)

They say that the pen is mightier than the sword. I believe that writers can learn a lot from swordsmen and samurais.

Not the harakiri/seppuku part. But the fiction of the samurai ethos. In these modern times, we often glorify and romanticise the samurais, basewd on existing historical works such as Miyamoto Musashi's A Book of Five Rings, without even realising some scholars are already debunking the samurai mythos.

Yes, A Book of Five Rings, the Code of Bushido - all that jazz - was probably a lie to elevate the status of the state-funded samurais who were the only large group of people who could read and write after the pivotal Battle of Sekigahara which ended the war and united all of Japan.

However, what was a lie, could be used to further improve our writing skills. I take writing seriously. So seriously, that I am willing to sacrifice a lot of things for it. Not everything, though. As much as I love Neil Gaiman, I will not give him my ass' virginity, if he happens to be a gay rapist, for example.

In Inoue Takehiko's manga Vagabond, we see a very clear depiction of Miyamoto Musashi as a swordsman who strives for better understanding of the path of the sword.

The sword is representative of life. Any conflict, triumphs, losses, philosophies, religion, relationships, can all be defined by the sword. At least in the manga.

So I thought, why not writing? Why not baking bread? But why not writing? Really.

First, you must understand that there are no levels. Perceiving writing and writers and pushing them into separate levels is dumb and ultimately unnecessary.

Anyone can write, like how anyone with thumbs can wield a sword or bake bread. But the writing is the focus, the swordsmanship, the bread. It is no longer the person. When you commit yourself to an artform, you yourself become a non-entity and the work takes centerstage.

Performers know this. Performing means a little death. A part of yourself dies in order to tell a story or maintain an illusion. When you write, you are performing, but your costume is your words and your stage is the media on which it is written.

This is why, self-conscious writing is dull and dreary. At least to me. Have you ever seen a self-conscious actor on stage? I have seen tonnes and they suck really bad.

"What will people think of me here? How will people react to me acting like this? Will the Twitterverse be awash with bouquets ort brickbats?"

All this self-doubt, creates hesitation, creates gaps, and in the turbulent, weird world of performing, in which time behaves very strangely, a gap, a tick, an instant, a dropped rhythm is all it takes to make or break a performance. This is true on stage, in swordsmanship, cocksmanship, breadmaking and yes, in writing.

Egotistical writing - which I sometimes do - is boring. Ego merely speaks to the ego in other people.

The best kind of writing is one that speaks to the soul. Bypass all the bullshit, the constant thoughts and fiery emotions and self-serving ego, and is only done for the benefit of the work.

Like swordsmanship - if you consistently think about yourself, while having a duel, you will die faster than the guy who focuses only on the sword.

Writing - as with every other aspect and practice in life - requires a zen-like approach. Fuck the word zen. It may bring about pretentious bullshit, but you do need a mind and a composure clear of any other thing that might distract you, or you would find yourself explaining yourself every few lines. Which is not bad, for a report, but death for fiction.

I think I have written enough for now.

I'll continue this series later. Meanwhile, remember to always strive to do your best and be the best no matter what you do. Otherwise, there is no point.